Why Are Great Pyrenees So Big? (Explained By Vet Tech)

Why Are Great Pyrenees So Big

Great Pyrenees are some of the biggest dogs around. These gentle giants are loyal, lovable, and very protective over their families. They make great guard dogs and are often calm in temperament despite their size. With all that fluff, Great Pyrenees can look as large as ponies!

So, why are Great Pyrenees so big?

Like many other modern dog breeds, Great Pyrenees were selectively bred for certain qualities. Big ancestors like the Anatolian Shepherd and Mareema Sheepdog helped to make the Great Pyrenees large. A history of guarding livestock in cold weather has helped to ensure that the Great Pyrenees stays big forever.  

In this article, we’ll do a deep dive into Great Pyrenees and why they’re one of the biggest dog breeds in existence.

Background On The Great Pyrenees

Great Pyrenees are special dogs for so many reasons. These ancient shepherds were originally bred to protect and guard livestock up in the Alps. They worked as protectors, alarms, and guardians for flocks of animals and human families.

These dogs have been around for a long time and went through a brief phase in their history of being the choice dog for French royalty. Today, some Great Pyrenees still work as guard dogs on ranches and farms. More commonly though, Great Pyrenees are loyal family dogs.

Great Pyrenees are often described by their owners as gentle, thoughtful, and serious. Great Pyrenees are naturally nocturnal and may spend most of their days snoozing around. Because they’re shepherds, they do well in pairs or groups of animals.

Despite all of these amazing qualities, one of the most distinctive characteristics of the Great Pyrenees remains their size.

How Big Are Great Pyrenees?

Great Pyrenees are one of the biggest dog breeds. Pure-bred Great Pyrenees often weigh over 100 pounds when full-grown. According to the American Kennel Club Breed standards, adult male Pyrs weigh at least 100 pounds and stand anywhere from 27 inches to 32 inches tall. Adult females weigh at least 85 pounds and are 25 inches to 29 inches tall. Even though the average Pyr weighs around 100 pounds, they can weigh much more in some circumstances.

These fluffy mountain dogs usually have large paws and extra toes that are made for navigating especially rocky terrains. They have a medium white fluffy coat which can make them appear larger.

Any dogs that have some Great Pyrenees mixed in them will likely turn out to be large or extra-large dogs. One of the strongest traits of this breed is definitely their size. So how did these dogs get to be so big, while other dogs like chihuahuas remain tiny?

The answer has a lot to do with selective breeding.

What Is Selective Breeding?

Selective breeding helps to explain why domesticated dogs look and act the way that they do. Great Danes were selectively bred for their large size while Daschunds were bred to sniff out and destroy pests.

Great Pyrenees are one of the oldest dog breeds in existence. While fossils show evidence of their existence in 1000 B.C., experts estimate this breed may be up to 11,000 years old. Most dog breeds aren’t so ancient and have only come to exist in the last few hundred years. Regardless of the timeline, domesticated animals usually thrive because of selective breeding.

Because of selective breeding, humans can intervene and control which traits they want in a dog, and which traits they would rather leave behind. It’s actually pretty simple. Imagine a litter of puppies born in the Alps hundreds of years ago. While all puppies might survive, the owners would probably only choose to breed the best and strongest. For reasons we’ll discuss below, that meant choosing the biggest Pyr puppies.

Despite how different dog breeds look, they’re all still considered the same species since they can breed and reproduce viable puppies. Because of this, humans can selectively cross different dog breeds until they get the perfect one.

Selective breeding is important in explaining why Great Pyrenees are so big. Humans choose to make Pyrs exactly the way they are, and we’ll walk about the reasons why they chose to now.

Why Are Great Pyrenees So Big?

So, why and how did the Great Pyrenees get so big? We know that humans have a lot to do with dog breeds and how they look and act. So, what made our ancestors choose to breed this giant mountain dog?

1. They Have Big Ancestors

One of the most obvious explanations for the size of the Great Pyrenees is their ancient dog ancestors. Some of the theorized ancestors of the Great Pyrenees are the Mareema sheepdog, the Anatolian shepherd, and the  Tibetan mastiff.

Maremma sheepdogs are white fluffy dogs that are just a bit smaller and gentler than Pyrs. Anatolian shepherds are giant guard dogs that can weigh up to 150 pounds, and Tibetan mastiffs are super fluffy snow dogs that often weigh around 120 pounds.

It’s easy to imagine why Great Pyrenees are so big when these are their ancestors. If this is true, it’s more proof that Great Pyrenees were selectively bred for their large size and also for their thick fluffy coats.

2. To Survive Cold Winters

Another reason why Great Pyrenees were selectively bred to be so big is that they needed to survive long harsh winters.

Great Pyrenees were originally bred to serve as guardians for livestock. While there are many dog breeds in existence that were bred to protect herds of animals, Great Pyrenees are special. These dogs were expected to perform their duties at high elevations in mountain ranges. Great Pyrenees were bred and kept in the Alps.  Obviously, as guard dogs these animals needed to be able to stay with their flocks 24/7.  That meant spending incredibly cold nights living outside.

Being big is a huge advantage for animals that need to stay warm. Because of their size and fluffy coat, Great Pyrenees can thrive in temperatures below freezing. In fact, they do well in temperatures as low as 15°C. This is one of the many reasons why some people still let their Great Pyrenees sleep outside today. They are built to survive extremely cold weather.

3. To Defend Against Predators

Another reason why the “big “gene was sought after for Great Pyrenees is that they needed to defend themselves and their flocks from predators.

When it’s your job to protect something size helps. That’s why many bodyguards are big. Larger animals can take more damage and still continue to keep fighting if needed.

As guard dogs, it was beneficial for Great Pyrenees to be large. Occasionally they might have to fight off a wild animal living in the mountains. These animals could include things like mountain lions bobcats and coyotes. Being so large might also help to avoid conflict in the first place as animals are less likely to attack prey that is bigger than them.

4. To Be The Loudest Alarm

The last reason why great pier knees are so big is that a bigger dog makes a bigger bark.

If you have a Great Pyrenees, you know that they bark a lot. There’s really no getting around it. It’s part of their instincts and what they were bred for in the first place.

As guard dogs, it was part of the Great Pyrenees’ job to sound the alarm when danger was near. Not only would this alert their animals that there was a potential threat but it would also alert their human owners that something could be wrong.

Bigger dogs have bigger barks. Since vocalizations have to do with the size of the throat and the vibrations it produces, it makes sense that you would want a bigger dog for a louder alarm. Plus, the Great Pyrenees bark is piercing on top of how loud it is. They tend to take their job seriously and do sound the alarm when they think something is wrong.

Final Thoughts

Great Pyrenees are big, fluffy, and so lovable. If you’ve ever owned a great Pyrenees you know what great dogs they really are. These dogs were selectively bred from a line of extra-large ancestors to be big because it helped them survive and do their job.

Being big makes Great Pyrenees more cold-resistant, better guardians, and great alarms. So, if you’ve ever found yourself wondering why your great Pyrenees is so big there are plenty of perfectly logical explanations.

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